Liam Kirk in at the double to help Great Britain seal famous victory over Belarus at IIHF World Championships
Year after year after year, Great Britain head coach Pete Russell and his team - both on and off the ice - have continued to silence the doubters.
Think back to Budapest in 2018. Recall the remarkable night in Kosice 12 months later.
After Liam Kirk scored twice to help floor Belarus with a 4-3 World Championship Group A victory in Riga on Wednesday night, it should not have come as a surprise. For the record, it marked a first win in regulation in the top tier for GB since 1962.
Save for a five-minute spell which saw them ship four goals in the first period against Russia on Saturday - leading to a 7-1 defeat - this past few days has seen GB prove they belong at this level time and time again.
The victory over Belarus was further evidence of their growing confidence at the top level, building on the point earned in the 3-2 overtime defeat to Denmark the previous day and Sunday’s narrow defeat to group leaders Slovakia.
They now sit fifth in the standings ahead of Friday’s clash against Sweden (face-off 2.15pm UK time), who could go above them if they beat bottom team Czech Republic on Thursday evening.
Maltby-born Kirk, an NHL Draft pick for the Arziona Coyotes in 2018 and who returned to play for Sheffield Steelers in the recent Elite Series, is now the joint-top scorer for the tournament with four goals and displayed further evidence of his growing stature when he put Britain ahead at 13.38, showing great patience to round his man before slotting the puck through the legs of Belarus’ British-born netminder, Danny Taylor.
Belarus, who beat Sweden on the opening weekend, levelled midway through the game when a block by Paul Swindelhurst saw the puck fall kindly for Vladislav Kodola to backhand past an already-commited Ben Bowns.
But GB remained strong, creating plenty of offence and rocked their opponents with two goals in 89 seconds towards the end of the second period.
Sheffield Steelers’ Jonathan Phillips had a large hand in the go-ahead goal, forechecking hard behind the Belarus net to allow Matthew Myers to nip in and steal the puck and feed Ben Davies, who stayed on his feet just long enough to poke the puck past Taylor.
It got even better shortly after through another GB goal that was - like Kirk’s opening strike of the tournament against Russia on saturday - ‘made in Sheffield’. Steelers’ Robert Dowd switched play from right to left to Sheffield Steeldogs’ defenceman Ben O’Connor, whose quick pass found Kirk all alone in front from where he fired over Taylor’s left shoulder.
GB remained aggressive in the third period and forced another turnover which allowed Mike Hammond to advance unchecked before unleashing a fierce shot past Taylor to make it 4-1 at 48.41.
But there proved to be a nervous final 10 minutes or so for the GB bench and the thousands of fans watching back home, the discomfort starting when Canadian-born Geoff Platt - who has played in the KHL for the past five seasons - capitalised on a giveaway behind the net by GB’s Dallas Ehrhardt to make it 4-2 at 51.19.
The nerves for some will have become even more frayed when Shane Prince forced the puck home from in front with a little over two minutes remaining on the clock.
But even though Belarus pulled netminder Taylor and New Jersey Devils’ forward Yegor Sharangovich rattled Bowns’ right-hand post, GB stayed strong to record a famous and, most importantly, fully-deserved win.
“The players’ passion, desire and courage to do the things they need to do to win is remarkable,” said co-coach Adam Keefe afterwards. “The confidence comes from the room and the special bond they have.
“This was a fantastic performance against a very good team. We knew as a coaching staff and we believe in these players if they keep playing that way they will get their moment - and this is their moment.
“Everything that is happening to them right now is well-deserved and well-earned and all the credit in the world goes to each and every one of those players.
“If they compete like that night in, night out, they are going to be in every game - not just Belarus and Denmark, but against teams like Sweden and Czech Republic.”
Myers, who was recently drafted to play for the Steelers’ in the Elite Series in Nottingham, said Gb showed tremendous “guts” to see the job through under fierce pressure from Belarus.
“It’s a massive win,” said Myers. “The world rankings show they are a number of places ahead of us and we knew it would be a big night for us. “We gave up a little more than we would have liked to in the third, but overall we played a great team game. It’s a huge achievement. It takes guts to close out a game like that.”
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